At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."

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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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Arts calendar
Charlotte Observer, January 29th

The cast is Domingo, guitar and vocals; Jim Cooper, 12-string guitar and vocals; Marty DeJarnette, lead guitar; Sam Falls, percussion; and Miriam Stirewalt, vocals. They will be joined by Ethan Uslan, two-time world ragtime piano champion; classical...Read more

A 'memorable' meshing of Cajun music and Tejano
The Daily Advertiser, January 29th

In Tejano music circles, conjunto is the pairing of a twelve-string guitar called a bajo sexto with a button-accordion. Baca explained during the concert that Germans brought the accordion to Texas and when the Mexican 12-string guitar, bajo sexto, was...Read more

Hot picks: Carnegie Lecture Hall h ost to Lead Belly tribute
Tribune-Review, January 28th

He was hailed as the “King of the 12-String Guitar” and wrote many songs that are now part of the Library of Congess, including the famous “Good Night, Irene.” The Postal Service even issued a stamp honoring him. With music and words, White, Lorkovic...Read more

Don Felder to perform on rock night at Lakes Jam
Brainerd Daily Dispatch, January 23rd

1 best 12-string guitar song in the world by Guitar World magazine. After leaving the group in 2001, Felder also became a New York Times bestselling author when his riveting confessional memoir "Heaven and Hell: My Life in The Eagles" ...Read more

Kottke returning to the Sheldon
The Edwardsville Intelligencer, January 21st

Leo Kottke's powerful guitar playing and his intimate relationship with audiences have made him one of folk music's favorite live performers. Known for his innovative 12-string guitar technique, Kottke is a member of the Guitar Player Magazine Hall of...Read more

12-String Effect Pedal Now Available
Sonic State, January 9th

DigiTech and UK distributor Sound Technology Ltd have announced immediate availability of the new DigiTech Mosaic Polyphonic 12-String Effect Pedal. They tell us that the DigiTech Mosaic provides the unmistakable sound of a 12-string guitar - its chime...Read more

Briefly | Music
The Register-Guard, January 1st

On Saturday, audiences have the opportunity to see him perform with a fellow American Guitar Master — Tracy Moore, a 12-string guitar “wizard,” as Pattis calls him. Pattis convinced Moore to leave his Puget Sound retreat to join him for a night of...Read more

SC4 free concerts to feature 12-string guitar player
Port Huron Times Herald, October 11th

St. Clair County Community College's Thursday Noon and Night Concert Series will continue Oct. 23 with 12-string guitar player Neil Jacobs. The concert will be at both noon and 7 p.m. in the Fine Arts Theatre on the college's Port Huron campus. Jacobs ...Read more